A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

History: Pollution of Lake Matawan, 1930

Not long after Lake Matawan was formed with much fanfare, area civic leaders began to receive reports of the negative consequences of the unregulated release of toxic effluent into the lake by local manufacturers and industries. As early as 1930, Matawan Borough's glistening gem was becoming an open sewer. The Clean Water Act wouldn't become law for another forty years, so solutions to water pollution weren't laid out and the issues weren't as evident as they are today.

There were no heroes against pollution at that time. The Borough's Board of Health was looking into the use of septic tanks to contain commercial effluent, while a former councilman recommended merging the effluent with the sewage being piped out of town under Atlantic Avenue. The former councilman also recommended submitting samples for testing, if only to confirm that the pollution was somehow benign, even though he'd tested the water himself by putting a live fish in the lake and watching it die. Folks were realizing the thick, oily water of Lake Matawan was no longer suitable for recreational uses like swimming, fishing and boating; even the smell of the lake was becoming an issue.

Below is an excerpt from a 19 Sept 1930 Matawan Journal article that contained news coverage of a Board of Health meeting where such issues were discussed.




Dr. C. A. Gesswein Advises That Samples of Water 
Be Sent to Dr. Sweet To Be Tested.

Former Councilman Charles E. Close came before the Board of Health Wednesday night and asked the board to have tests taken of the water in Matawan Lake which, at times, became very objectionable. He said there were three drains emptying into it from out of the borough limits but the contamination came into the Borough limits and at times was so oily it could be scooped up with a ladle. He said it was not fit to bathe in and that fish could not live in it as he had tried the experiment of putting a fish in the lake and it lived just 20 minutes. He said the Borough had gone to large expense in opening Atlantic Avenue to carry its sewer line down in order to keep the water of that lake pure from all contaminants.

Dr. Gesswein said it was not the wish of the Board of Health to make any ill feeling with the industries surrounding the borough but he believed it would be wise to secure samples from various parts of the lake through Dr. Sweet, State Health Officer, and if the water is dangerous there would be nothing else to do but stop the draining into it. The colored water would indicate there was copper in it, which in itself would not be dangerous.

Mr. Close said he thought the drainage could be lifted into the borough sewer without very great expense.

Just at present a factory is experimenting with a septic tank, A. B. Smith, chairman of the Board explained. This work was being done at the suggestion of Dr. Sweet and under his direction. The results of the experiment will soon be known.

The 1930 Federal Census for New Jersey shows Charles E Close (69) living at 41 Main Street in Matawan, along with his daughter, Lillian Warwick, her husband Merritt, and his daughter's children Marjorie and Merritt Jr. He was born in New Jersey to parents born in New York. In 1930, he was retired and a widower, and his property was valued at $10,000. The 1920 census showed him widowed at the same address, living with his unmarried daughter Lillian. He was a road and bridge builder by trade.

1920 Federal Census shows Charles A Gesswein (39) living at 205 Main Street in Matawan, along with his wife, his parents, and two sisters. He was born in Ohio to a German father and a mother from Virginia. He was listed as a medical physician.

1 comment:

  1. The copper might not have been identified as dangerous at that time, but it is on a list of 10 heavy metals (along with nickel) that have long term contamination effects (see http://aiswcd.org/IUMPDF/appendix/u03.pdf).

    The Hanson-Van Winkle-Munning plant on church street (noted in "Matawan and Aberdeen, of Town and Field) operated what was reputedly one of the largest electroplating plants in the world. And before that, the plant's predecessor company was a nickel plating plant, operated by Munning-Loeb. To see some of the interesting chemicals and processes used, follow this link to Mr. Loeb's article published in an American Electroplating Journal. http://www.nmfrc.org/subs/history/dec1927.cfm#four
    Nickel, zinc, cyanide, muriatic and sulphuric acid, and benzene were commonly used.

    I'm sure the acidity of the Gravelly Brook is not just from the "springs" as maintained by the county. Nor is the green is the lake purely from lime.

    This plant was located just south of Matawan Lake, and in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Senior Housing development.

    Possibly back in 1933, the chemical runoff, if anything, had a dampening effect on the amount of bacteria found by Mr. Close in the effluent. After the clean up (attained by creating run off to another location), the chemicals had no impediments to neutralize their effects on the water and soil.